Any girl who's ever had a boy sit behind her in the seventh grade growling, "Your cunt is a big black hole. Everything gets lost in there, in your black hole cunt," knows there's something special about the vagina. The bit of anatomy plays a unique role in our culture: It's the central character in many jokes and the end goal of most men's social activities, yet amazingly, we never really talk about it.
The Austin Theater Alliance's production of The Vagina Monologues doesn't just talk about it. It delves deep for a stimulating inside look at what a vagina is, what it means, and the surprising effect it can have on men and women.
It's difficult to even say the word vagina out loud without feeling silly. Even a woman educated in the ways of sex might not know exactly what a vagina is. Is it the hole? All the fleshy stuff? We may have heard about the vulva, labia, clitoris and uterus in a doctor's office, but is the vagina the whole thing down there?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a vagina is the "membranous canal leading from the vulva to the uterus in women and female mammals." So it's a little inaccurate for actress Starla Benford to say in the show, "Mmmmm, stroke my vagi-i-i-ina!" And all this talk about the clitoris (did you know it has 8,000 nerve endings -- twice the number found in the penis!) is really referring to the vagina's neighbor.
The play consists of three actresses on a stage with a chair and stool/table; each delivers monologues inspired by hundreds of conversations that playwright Eve Ensler has compiled with women in "vagina interviews." One woman shaved her pubic hair at her marriage counselor's insistence to stop her husband from cheating, despite the fact that sex then gave her painful friction burn. He still cheated, and she learned to love her whole vagina, hair and all. In another scene, the three actresses chat an endless list of names (hoochie cooch, noo noo, ni ni, twat or Clarice). Most of the show, however, explores the female genitalia on an external or emotional level, rather than the literal vagina/birth canal.
If a recent Austin performance is any indication, both Sherrie Parker Lee, winner of the 2001 National Broadway Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in The Vagina Monologues, and native Texan Benford should win over Houston audiences with their convincing character transformations. Earthy-voiced journalist and author Linda Ellerbee will join them in the local run.
In our viewing, the Austin audience's giddiness was distracting at first. The mere mention of the word vagina seemed funny to people. But like supple, slow and good sex, the play eased everyone into the experience. Silliness soon gave way to politics and humor, and even some touching moments that built to a meaningful climax.
The show gives you an up-close and personal look at the organ we'd just as soon hide. It may even allow you to open up and talk about it -- really talk about it -- beyond the bathroom humor and locker room boasts.